In our family, August was our month to go to the lake.
My mother grew up in California and Nevada and her grandfather, my great-grandfather, bought a cabin at Lake Tahoe in 1925. For more than 50 years, family members spent part of each summer in Carnelian Bay, on the lake’s northwestern shore. They came from nearby Reno, from San Francisco and from the Midwest.
Growing up in Oregon, our branch of the family always looked forward to August, when we would make the all-day trek to Lake Tahoe.
For a week or two we would swim, sunbathe and explore the woods behind the cabin. It’s where we came together as a family — and got to know our cousins.
Our cabin was set back in the woods a couple of blocks. Since the lake sits at more than 6,250 feet above sea level, it gets cold at night. We had bonfires, roasting marshmallows on sticks. We slept outside under the stars, peeking out from under heavy blankets. It was a special place.
The lake vacation is a time-honored tradition, even though we could never imagine anywhere as spectacular as Lake Tahoe.
Two hours north of Detroit, on the shores of Lake Huron, Harbor Beach Resort is a collection of 40 cottages. This year, the resort is celebrating its 125th year.
“I’ve spent some of every summer of my life at Harbor Beach,” said Hank Hubbard.
Hank is my cousin — and we got to know each other at Lake Tahoe. But his family’s lake tradition started in 1950 when his grandmother was invited to the resort by someone who owned a cottage.
“We have so many lake-related traditions,” he said. “We spent a ton of time sailing small boats around, including playing tennis-ball-tag. We’d throw the ball and hit another boat — and they’d have to sail back and get it.”
Other traditions include dressing up for dinner and swimming out to the lighthouse — a mile offshore.
There’s a real sense of community among the families who have been coming to Harbor Beach for years. “It’s a summer-long family reunion,” said Hank. “Some stay for a week or two and some stay longer.”
Lake life in Alaska is a little different.
“My favorite lake in Alaska is Lake Clark,” said Dan Oberlatz. Oberlatz runs Alaska Alpine Adventures, a company which specializes in guiding adventurers around the state — including to lakes in Lake Clark National Park.
“I lived in Lake Tahoe,” he said. “In fact I was there last weekend for a wedding. Lake Clark is what Tahoe would have looked like 200 years ago. The abundant fishing, camping and hiking makes the area a great place to live.”
Oberlatz still has a cabin in Port Alsworth, the largest community on Lake Clark. In addition to Lake Clark, Oberlatz has explored many other lakes on the Alaska Peninsula which are famous for fishing, including those lakes in Katmai National Park: Lake Grosvenor, Naknek Lake and Brooks Lake.
All of these lakes are accessible mostly by air.
There are a handful of Alaska lakes on the road system, though. Harding Lake is south of Fairbanks about 45 miles on the Richardson Highway.
Karen Wilken grew up spending part of her summers at the lake. In addition to swimming, “there’s lots of waterskiing, knee-boarding, wakeboarding, tubing and jet skis,” she said.
“My grandparents got property in the 1940s on the west side of the lake. It was primitive,” she said. Since then, family members have built several other cabins. “My parents have a cabin, my brother has a cabin and I have a little cabin, too.”
If you’re going to have a lake cabin, though, WIlken has some advice: “It’s a marathon and not a sprint when you have a lake cabin. It’s a fine balance between fun time and all the stuff you have to maintain,” she said.
Around Anchorage there are three wonderful lake areas. Near Wasilla is Big Lake, which is a wonderful mecca for waterskiing and jet skis in the summer — and snow machines in the winter. Up in the hills north of Eagle River is Eklutna Lake. It’s Anchorage’s water supply — so no motorcraft are permitted. But you can rent a bike or a kayak from Lifetime Adventures for a fun day on the water.
South of town is Kenai Lake. The Kenai River gets more attention, but there are wonderful campgrounds along the shore, including Trail River and Quartz Creek, which afford wonderful views of the lake.
Byron Elton from Santa Barbara, California, was visiting his brother in Bellingham, Washington, along Lake Whatcom, just east of town. “We swam, we hiked around it and enjoyed canoes and kayaks,” said Elton. Whatcom County maintains two trails along the lake.
I spent one night at Lake Whatcom after a long drive from Prince George, British Columbia. Peter Dobey and his wife moved there north from Northern California to be closer to her kids, who live across the border in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Dobey’s house is right on the lake — and there’s a nice pier to tie up the personal watercraft and ski boat. “We’ve also got water skis and towables. You can’t live on the lake without toys,” he said.
On the afternoon I was there, the whole family came down from Canada and Dobey’s grill was working overtime. We watched the sun set in the west and cracked open another beer. It was a good day on the lake.
If you and your family want to literally be on the lake, consider a houseboat rental on one of several reservoirs in the Southwest.
Lake Powell, which straddles the Arizona-Utah border behind the Glen Canyon Dam, is home to a fleet of houseboats operated by Aramark. You can rent a 50- to 60-foot houseboat, an RV on floats. Add on a ski boat and a jet ski or two and you’ve got a mini-flotilla to explore the canyons.
With the houseboat, you can move to any part of the lake and go ashore for exploring and hiking. The boats are air-conditioned and feature several staterooms. Some can accommodate up to 12 people.
Our family doesn’t have the Lake Tahoe cabin anymore — and some of us are still sad after 40 years. But we did have a big Lake Tahoe reunion. Camp Richardson is a collection of cabins along the lake’s south shore. Relatives and a few friends came in from all over the U.S. It was a chance to dip our toes in the ice-cold waters of the lake. It also was a prompt to build new traditions for our family to gather, preferably around a lake somewhere.
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.